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Government of India Act 1935


After the failure of the Third Round Table Conference, the British government gave
the Joint Select Committee the task of formulating the new Act for India. The
Committee comprised of 16 members each from the House of Commons and House
of Lords, 20 representatives from British India and seven from the princely states.
Lord Linlithgow was appointed as the president of the Committee. After a year and a
half of deliberations, the Committee finally came out with a draft Bill on February 5,
1935. The Bill was discussed in the House of Commons for 43 days and in the House
of Lords for 13 days and finally, after being signed by the King, was enforced as the
Government of India Act, 1935, in July 1935.

The main features of the Act of 1935 were:

1. A Federation of India was promised for, comprising both provinces and states. The
provisions of the Act establishing the federal central government were not to go into
operation until a specified number of rulers of states had signed Instruments of
Accession. Since, this did not happen, the central government continued to function
in accordance with the 1919 Act and only the part of the 1935 Act dealing with the
provincial governments went into operation.

2. The Governor General remained the head of the central administration and
enjoyed wide powers concerning administration, legislation and finance.

3. No finance bill could be placed in the Central Legislature without the consent of
the Governor General.

4. The Federal Legislature was to consist of two houses, the Council of State (Upper
House) and the Federal Assembly (Lower House).

5. The Council of State was to consist of 260 members, out of whom 156 were to be
elected from the British India and 104 to be nominated by the rulers of princely

6. The Federal Assembly was to consist of 375 members; out of which 250 were to be
elected by the Legislative Assemblies of the British Indian provinces while 125 were
to be nominated by the rulers of princely states.

7. The Central Legislature had the right to pass any bill, but the bill required the
approval of the Governor General before it became Law. On the other hand Governor
General had the power to frame ordinances.

8. The Indian Council was abolished. In its place, few advisers were nominated to
help the Secretary of State for India.
9. The Secretary of State was not expected to interfere in matters that the Governor
dealt with, with the help of Indian Ministers.

10. The provinces were given autonomy with respect to subjects delegated to them.

11. Diarchy, which had been established in the provinces by the Act of 1919, was to
be established at the Center. However it came to an end in the provinces.

12. Two new provinces Sindh and Orissa were created.

13. Reforms were introduced in N. W. F. P. as were in the other provinces.

14. Separate electorates were continued as before.

15. One-third Muslim representation in the Central Legislature was guaranteed.

16. Autonomous provincial governments in 11 provinces, under ministries responsible

to legislatures, would be setup.

17. Burma and Aden were separated from India.

18. The Federal Court was established in the Center.

19. The Reserve Bank of India was established.

Both the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League opposed the Act, but
participated in the provincial elections of winter 1936-37, conducted under
stipulations of the Act. At the time of independence, the two dominions of India and
Pakistan accepted the Act of 1935, with few amendments, as their provisional


The Government of India Act 1935 was originally passed in August 1935, and is said
to have been the longest (British) Act of Parliament ever enacted by that time.
Because of its length, the Act was retroactively split by the Government of India
(Reprinting) Act 1935 (26 Geo. 5 & 1 Edw. 8 c. 1) into two separate Acts:

1. The Government of India Act 1935

2. The Government of Burma Act 1935

References in literature on Indian political and constitutional history are usually to

the shortened Government of India Act 1935, rather than to the text of the Act as
originally enacted.

The most significant aspects of the Act were:

the grant of a large measure of autonomy to the provinces of British India

(ending the system of dyarchy introduced by the Government of India Act

provision for the establishment of a "Federation of India", to be made up of

both British India and some or all of the "princely states"

the introduction of direct elections, thus increasing the franchise from seven
million to thirty-five million people

a partial reorganization of the provinces:

o Sind was separated from Bombay

o Bihar and Orissa was split into the separate provinces of Bihar and

o Burma was completely separated from India

o Aden was also detached from India, and established as a separate


membership of the provincial assemblies was altered so as to include more

elected Indian representatives, who were now able to form majorities and be
appointed to form governments

the establishment of a Federal Court

However, the degree of autonomy introduced at the provincial level was subject to
important limitations: the provincial Governors retained important reserve powers,
and the British authorities also retained a right to suspend responsible government.

The parts of the Act intended to establish the Federation of India never came into
operation, due to opposition from rulers of the princely states. The remaining parts
of the Act came into force in 1937, when the first elections under the Act were also

The Act

Background to the Act

Indians had increasingly been demanding a greater role in the government of their
country since the late 19th century. The Indian contribution to the British war effort
during the First World War meant that even the more conservative elements in the
British political establishment felt the necessity of constitutional change, resulting in
the Government of India Act 1919. That Act introduced a novel system of
government known as provincial "dyarchy", i.e., certain areas of government (such
as education) were placed in the hands of ministers responsible to the provincial
legislature, while others (such as public order and finance) were retained in the
hands of officials responsible to the British-appointed provincial Governor. While the
Act was a reflection of the demand for a greater role in government by Indians, it
was also very much a reflection of British fears about what that role might mean in
practice for India (and of course for British interests there).

The experiment with dyarchy proved unsatisfactory. A particular frustration for

Indian politicians was that even for those areas over which they had gained nominal
control, the "purse strings" were still in the hands of British officialdom.

The intention had been that a review of India's constitutional arrangements and
those princely states that were willing to accede to it. However, division between
Congress and Muslim representatives proved to be a major factor in preventing
agreement as to much of the important detail of how federation would work in

Against this practice, the new Conservative-dominated National Government in

London decided to go ahead with drafting its own proposals (the white paper). A
joint parliamentary select committee, chaired by Lord Linlithgow, reviewed the
white paper proposals at great length. On the basis of this white paper, the
Government of India Bill was framed. At the committee stage and later, to appease
the diehards, the "safeguards" were strengthened, and indirect elections were
reinstated for the Central Legislative Assembly (the central legislature's lower
house). The bill duly passed into law in August 1935.

As a result of this process, although the Government of India Act 1935 was intended
to go some way towards meeting Indian demands, both the detail of the bill and the
lack of Indian involvement in drafting its contents meant that the Act met with a
lukewarm response at best in India, while still proving too radical for a significant
element in Britain.

Some Features of the Act

No Preamble The Ambiguity of the British Commitment to Dominion


While it had become uncommon for British Acts of Parliament to contain a

preamble, the absence of one from the Government of India Act 1935 contrasts
sharply with the 1919 Act, which set out the broad philosophy of that Act's aims in
relation to Indian political development.
The 1919 Act's preamble quoted, and centered on, the statement of the Secretary
of State for India, Edwin Montagu (17 July 1917 19 March 1922) to the House of
Commons on 20 August 1917, which pledged:

the gradual development of self-governing institutions, with a view to the

progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral Part of the
British Empire.

Indian demands were by now centering on British India achieving constitutional

parity with the existing Dominions such as Canada and Australia, which would have
meant complete autonomy within the British Commonwealth. A significant element
in British political circles doubted that Indians were capable of running their country
on this basis, and saw Dominion status as something that might, perhaps, be aimed
for after a long period of gradual constitutional development, with sufficient

This tension between and within Indian and British views resulted in the clumsy
compromise of the 1935 Act having no preamble of its own, but keeping in place the
1919 Act's preamble even while repealing the remainder of that Act. Unsurprisingly,
this was seen in India as yet more mixed messages from the British, suggesting at
best a lukewarm attitude and at worst suggesting a "minimum necessary" approach
towards satisfying Indian desires.


While the Congress was in the thick of battle, the Third Round Table Conference met
in London in November 1932, once again without the leaders of the Congress.

Its discussions eventually led to the passing of the Government of India Act of 1935.
The Act provided for the establishment of an All India Federation and a new system
of government for the provinces on the basis of provincial autonomy.

The federation was to be based on union ofthe provinces of British India and the
princely states. There was to be a bicameral federal legislature in which the states
were given disproportionate weight age. Moreover, the representatives of the states
were not to be elected by the people, but appointed directly by the rulers.

Only 14 per cent of the total population in British India was given the right to vote.
Even this legislature, in which the princes were once again to be used to check and
counter the nationalist elements, was denied any real Power.

Defense and foreign affairs remained outside its control, while the Governor-General
retained special control over the other subjects.

The Governor-General and the Governors were to be appointed by the British

government and were to be responsible to it. In the provinces, local power was
increased. Ministers responsible to the provincial assemblies were to control all
departments of provincial administration.

But the Governors were given special powers. They could veto legislative action and
legislate on their own. Moreover, they retained full control over the civil service and
the police.

The Act could not satisfy the nationalist aspiration for both political and economic
power continued to be concentrated in the hands of the British government.

Foreign rule was to continue as before; only a few popularly elected ministers were
to be added to the structure of British administration in India. The Congress
condemned the Act as "totally disappointing".

The federal part of the Act was never introduced but the provincial part was soon
put into operation. Bitterly opposed to the Act though the Congress was, it decided
to contest the elections under the new Act of 193 5, though with the declared aim of
showing how unpopular the Act was.

The whirlwind election campaign of the Congress met with massive popular
response, even though Gandhiji did not address a single election meeting.

The elections, held in February 1937, conclusively demonstrated that a large

majority of Indian people supported the Congress which swept the polls in most of
the provinces.

Congress ministries were formed in July 1937 in seven out of eleven provinces.
Later, Congress formed coalition governments in two others.

Only Bengal and Punjab had non-Congress ministries. Punjab was ruled by the
Unionist Party and Bengal by a coalition of the Krishak Praja Party and the Muslim